Le triplement de la superficie d'une réserve naturelle dans le Nord du Myanmar fait officiellement de celle - ci la plus grande réserve à tigres au monde. La réalité du terrain n'a rien à voir avec cette version relayée par des organisations internationales ingénues, comme le précise Nirmal Gosh le 15 Septembre sur son site "Indian Jungles". Aucun "site source", zone abritant un noyau de population suffisant pour redynamiser le tigre sur le plan démographique n'a pu être détecté au Myanmar par le WCS parmi les 42 retenus pour un plan de renforcement de l'espèce pour les années 2010 - 2022 (voir page 16 septembre "42 sites à l'Est, pour commencer").
Paper Park, Paper Tigers
By Nirmal Ghosh*
September 15, 2010 - The report from the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDGN) is disturbing.
The representatives of the group whom I met with recently, showed me video footage, filmed in February this year, of some of the scenes depicted in the report.
One clip showed a backhoe tracking across a stark expanse of churned-up earth - the forest which once stood there now only a faint line on the horizon.
A map showed the land clearing in the Hugawng Valley Tiger Reserve, apparently by Yuzana company- a corporation owned by tycoon Htay Myint, described in reports as a crony of the Myanmar military regime - burrowing northwards, driving a wedge that almost reaches the heart of the reserve.
The forests are being mowed down to be replaced with cash crop plantations. In the process, over 5,000 locals living off the land, have seen their traditional resource base devastated, and have in many cases been forced to relocate.
The operations of the Yuzana corporation are protected by 200 soldiers plus private militia, the KDGN report says.
Last week, in a move that will test the standards of administration of justice in military-ruled Myanmar, 17 farmers from the area filed a plea for compensation for their lands, with a court in the state capital, Myitkyina.
The 17 had been among 148 farmers from five villages in the area, who had protested in June against land confiscation by Yuzana. News reports quoted Myint Lwin, a lawyer representing the farmers, as saying that over the past two months, more than 120 farmers had been resettled with compensation for their land amounting to US$80 an acre.
The farmers contend that the compensation grossly undervalues their land.
The apparent land-grab, risks destroying the credibility of Myanmar's showcase environmental protection effort and undermining its sound biodiversity conservation objectives.
An expansion last month, tripled the size of the Hugawng Valley Tiger reserve to 11,000 square kilometres making it the largest tiger reserve in the world.
"In the northernmost stretches of Myanmar, a valley exists where tigers can just be tigers," a newsletter from the Wildlife Conservation Society said after the expansion.
But the KDGN report says 400,000 acres of land, double that allowed under the terms of a licence granted to Yuzana by the government, has been grabbed by the
corporation to plant cash crops.
"Fleets of tractors, backhoes and bulldozers rip up forests, raze bamboo groves and flatten existing small farms. Signboards that mark animal corridors and 'no-hunting zones' stand out starkly against a now barren landscape... all that is left of conservation efforts," it says.
The situation is further complicated by overlapping jurisdictions. The Kachin Independence Army is a strong presence in the region and exercises de facto control over many areas.
Pro-democracy groups colour the conservation project as a ploy by the regime to extend the reach of its army.
And where does all this leave the tigers? In the rugged terrain and dense tropical monsoon forest, there can only be educated guesses, but in 2002 it was believed the Hugawng Valley may have up to 100 tigers.
The jungles in northern Myanmar, stretch for miles to the border with India's Arunachal Pradesh state, where another tiger reserve - Namdapha - forms part of India's protected area network aimed at saving the last of the giant cats.
Possibly a little over 3,000 tigers survive in the wild across a few Asian countries. But many are in small remnant populations in isolated forests, cut off from each other and running out of space - which is why an area as large as Hugawng-Namdapha, one of the world's biodiversity hotspots, is a potential last redoubt.
But even in these dense green jungles of towering mountains and streams that feed the great Brahmaputra river in India and the Chindwin in Myanmar, the tiger is under threat, from encroachment for cultivation and mining, and from hunting тАУ the latter mostly by Lisu tribal people. It is thought there are less than half a dozen left in Namdapha.
It was through the Hugawng Valley that the British cut the famed Stilwell road to connect their forces in India to those fighting the Japanese as they overran what was then known as Burma in World War II.
Men, vehicles and weapons trundled on the muddy trail hacked through the dense undergrowth and out of the sides of mountains; up and down the border fierce battles left many dead.
Dr Alan Rabinowitz, one of the world's foremost wildlife scientists sometimes called the Indiana Jones of conservation, began exploring the remote valley in the late 1990s, and eventually persuaded the generals of the regime to declare it a protected area - a project the generals embraced with remarkable enthusiasm, sparking hope for the tiger.
At the start of his work in Myanmar, the US-based Dr Rabinowitz - now CEO of the nonprofit organization Panthera devoted to protecting the world's 36 wild cat species - was criticised by pro-democracy groups for engaging with a military dictatorship shunned by many countries.
In his 2007 book 'Life in the Valley of Death: The fight to save tigers in a land of guns, gold and greed' he explained, "If wildlife conservation has first to be considered through political filters, then where should I work in the world?"
"And when did animals get to vote and decide what governments they must live or die under?"
The tigers of Hugawng survived World War II and a civil war. But will they survive the new onslaughts of our times?
The court's judgement may be crucial in determining the outcome. For eventually, the tiger will never survive without the tolerance of the people who have for generations shared its habitat.
*A version of this piece was first published in The Straits Times on Sep 6, 2010.
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